In this latest post for our Raising Star Readers column, contributor Constance Van Hoven shares the ways that books helped her reconnect with her Reading Team now that they are able to be together in person once again:
After 16 months apart from this duo, I was eager to read to them my new nonfiction picture book, Rare and Blue: Finding Nature’s Treasures, followed by a chat about our favorite things in the book. Which I also planned would lead to me sharing my favorite species: a cerulean warbler, which would then lead to sharing some wonderful bird-themed picture books I brought along. That was the plan, anyway.
Priya and Nikhil’s parents read Rare and Blue to them months ago when it came out. Still, what a rare pleasure as an author to read my book with my own grandchildren on a sunny spring afternoon. Since the road to picture book publication can be awfully long, you need to savor joy when you have the opportunity!
I asked Priya what species in the book was her favorite, and she quickly answered, “the slithery snake.” Alan Marks’s illustration of the eastern indigo snake coiled across a full spread is impressive! We talked about these snakes and the fact that they are becoming rare because their habitat is disappearing. And that some people take them from the wild to keep as pets.
Nikhil was happy counting the Karner blue butterflies in the book, and I pointed out the cerulean warbler with his beautiful blue feathers. I explained that we probably wouldn’t see a cerulean warbler in Colorado, but we might see a mountain bluebird. Then, per my plan, it was time to talk about robins.
On previous visits, we enjoyed observing a robin family nesting above a light fixture next door. From the front porch, we could see all the comings and goings and even experience a few aerial acrobatics as the birds swooped between porches. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans … As fate would have it, no nest this year. And there were very few robins around; perhaps the females had not arrived yet.
We read Robins!: How They Grow Up by Eileen Christelow, one of my all-time favorite bird-themed picture books, anyway. Priya especially enjoyed the humorous and factual running commentary of the two young robins in the book. She promised she would let me know if a new robin family moved in next door.
I was so carried away with books I wanted to share, I forgot that we are a Reading Team. Thank goodness, the team stepped up! The first book that Priya wanted to show me was There’s a Giraffe in My Soup by Ross Burach. This current most-requested bedtime story is a zany riff on the old line “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.” Which of course, Priya doesn’t know. She howls at the assortment of zoo animals showing up in bowls of soup and the clever puns that go along with them. And she loves repeating, “bon appétit.”
A second much loved book by the same author, also featuring a giraffe, is I Am Not a Chair. Both kids have this one just about memorized. They are quick to call out any slip-ups in the reading of this funny story about a frustrated giraffe who keeps being mistaken for a chair and must finally stand up for himself. Even Nikhil understood the twist at the end, when the giraffe mistakes a tortoise for a chair. “Turtle is angry,” he said seriously.
While Priya is all about reading silly books, riding her scooter, and doing art projects, Nikhil is the typical toddler on the go, wanting to do everything his big sister does. Nikhil is also/still truck crazy. He made sure to tell us right away that Monday is the day the garbage truck comes.
Nikhil squealed with delight when he opened a wrapped package I brought, first because the paper had butterflies on it, but mostly because it contained a copy of Go, Go, Tractors!. This book was given to Nikhil as a gift from the author, Candice Ransom. It’s part of a Step into Reading vehicle series with illustrations by Mike Yamada. Nikhil devoured page after page depicting a brother and sister doing all kinds of work at farms, construction sites, even at the dump while riding on colorful tractors. Priya is beginning to sound out words; soon she will be able to read this book to her brother.
Now, back to birds — I wasn’t ready to give up on them. I had brought a plastic tub filled with picture books about birds from my own collection. I set the tub at one end of the kitchen and it didn’t take long for Priya to dive in. First, she found Sita Singh’s picture book Birds of a Feather. I knew the stunning, fanciful illustrations of peafowl by illustrator Stephanie Fizer Coleman would grab her attention.
Priya and Nikhil nestled close as I read about Mo, a rare white leucistic peacock who is in despair over his looks despite the encouragement of his friends. The kids empathized with Mo; Nikhil sweetly repeated the other peacock’s comments: “You’re still a peacock. You’ll be fine.” And both cheered when Mo’s glowing white feathers saved the jungle celebration.
At the end of Birds of a Feather, the author provides information on her childhood in India where wild peafowl are common. Her happy memories of peacocks on roofs and in yards inspired the book.
Right away, Priya reminded me that Nanu and Nani, her other set of grandparents, grew up in India. She said she will ask them about peacocks the next time they talk. Priya also told me that she is going to visit India someday, and she will be looking for peacocks.
The other book Priya especially liked was Birds by Carme Lemniscates — which actually has its own vibrant peacock. This book is a lively introduction to the ways that birds inspire us. Priya lingered over the page that shows a young girl riding on a flying goose. “I’d like to do that,” she said. “So would I,” I agreed.
The words at the end of Birds resonated with me in terms of my short time together with my reading team: “Birds are like thoughts. They come. Stay awhile. And then fly away. They fly where their hearts call them.” Too soon our visit was over; it was time for me to fly away …
Now, I’m starting to fill that tub with more books from my bookshelves to be ready for our next visit whenever it happens. And I’m looking forward to whatever books my team might want to share. I am grateful that books, my choices and especially theirs, helped this Reading Team get reacquainted and reconnected.
Yesterday when I spoke to Priya, I asked her if a robin had made a nest yet next door. “No, but I saw a cat walk by,” she replied. Her observational skills are growing!
Bookology is always looking for new Reading Teams to help us celebrate the joys of reading aloud together. Contact Lisa Bullard for further information if you’re interested in participating.